3 Ways to Pack a Healthier Lunch

November 21, 2012 | Kait Fortunato

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It's lunchtime, your stomach is grumbling and that frozen meal just does not sound appealing for the third time this week. Lunch is always an important meal for student-athletes, especially when it's the last meal they eat before a scheduled practice, workout or game. You could run out and grab something, spend too much money and feel lousy the rest of the day—or, with the right tools and some planning, you can have exciting, healthy lunches that last you an entire week. (See Healthy Eating for On-the-Go Athletes.) How so? Here are three ways to pack a healthier lunch.

Turn one ingredient into two meals

Although leftovers can be an option for lunches, I know I don't always want to eat the same thing two days in a row. So instead, use one ingredient from dinner and turn it into something completely different.For example:

  • A dinner that featured Almond Crusted Chicken can easily be used for a crunchy BBQ chicken wrap, a unique chicken salad combo with crackers, or a stir fry with peppers and mushrooms. As long as the chicken is cooked, it's easy to use in a packed lunch.
  • With ground turkey, instead of separating it into small portions, cook it all at once and use it for different meals. Bulk it up with marinara sauce and pair it with spaghetti squash or whole wheat pasta for dinner tonight, but save some to make a taco salad or turkey chili for tomorrow's lunch.

Weekend preparation

This is the answer to the busy week, allowing you to quickly put together a lunch that you will look forward to. Wash and chop all your vegetables, put together snack bags of nuts and raisins, portion out servings of hummus or peanut butter and make a big batch of brown rice, quinoa or roasted sweet potatoes.

The more healthy things you have ready to go, the easier it is to make a variety of lunches throughout the week. Buying things is a great first step, but unless they are ready to go, it is still hard to use them.

Rule of three

This is a good guideline for structuring your lunches properly. Whenever possible, follow the rule of three: carbohydrate, protein and vegetable. A great example is a grain-based salad. To make one:

  • Switch the base each week: brown rice, couscous, roasted sweet potatoes, whole wheat pasta, quinoa or beans.
  • Add vegetables: raw peppers, steamed veggies, or a can of low-sodium diced tomatoes, sauteed spinach or roasted vegetables.
  • Make sure to add some protein: grilled chicken, a can of tuna, tofu or some hard-boiled eggs.

You can switch up the ingredients, but as long as you have all the components, you have the makings of a healthy lunch!

Want more healthy lunch ideas? Check out what's on the pros' plates.

Kait Fortunato
- Kait Fortunato is a registered dietitian at Rebecca Bitzer & Associates, a large and experienced nutrition practice in Maryland. She focuses on individualized nutritional recommendations...
Kait Fortunato
- Kait Fortunato is a registered dietitian at Rebecca Bitzer & Associates, a large and experienced nutrition practice in Maryland. She focuses on individualized nutritional recommendations...
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